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The Changing Shape of The Police Service; Part 1

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Last updated on November 23rd, 2023 at 07:00 pm

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Much has been said about numbers in Policing, and I have already written more than enough on the subject. For the purposes of this post, and Part II when I get the data I need, I shan’t reference numbers directly very much, you’ll be pleased to hear, but concentrate more on what we do with the ones we have and where they go to.

As you may be aware, I’m not a fan of having too many lines on a chart, I find that too many gets confusing, and if you confuse your readers you’ve effectively lost your point.

With that in mind I’ve restricted the chart, at Fig 2 below, to only 3 lines, and I’m hoping that my points will be clear.

I started with 2012, simply because it was the first year that I could find any reliable data for, I finished with 2021 because that was the most recent set of published data. I believe 2022 will be counted at the end of this month and published around July time. 2016 I chose because a) it ties in with the data I have requested for Part II, and b) it’s nearly halfway between 2012 and 2021.

In my only nod to outright numbers, here’s the total strength of the Police Service of England and Wales between 1979 and end of 2021 for some context. Austerity and Police Uplift Programme should be easy enough to pick out.

The Changing Shape of The Police Service; Part 1
Fig 1

Now to address another elephant in another room. How much experience do our officers have? (and that is most definitely NOT any kind of criticism of officers serving or past).

The Changing Shape of The Police Service; Part 1
Fig 2

To be honest I couldn’t decide whether even just 3 lines was too many so Fig 3 shows exactly the same data in a different way.

The Changing Shape of The Police Service; Part 1
Fig 3

And there we have it. For the first time officers with zero to 5 years service now form the largest sector of Policing. Or, put another way, just under one third of all Police Officers have less than 5 years service. Out of 137,690 officers at the end of March 2021, 42,719 had less than 5 years’ service. That can’t all be laid at the door of the Police Uplift Programme as that has only been in existence for about 2 years. The 15-20 year sector is currently looking quite healthy (more on that in Part II), but everywhere else we seem to have shed experience. However, the 20-25 year sector is now lower than it was 10 years ago. There will undoubtedly be those out there that will pipe up and say that I’m a dinosaur, not relevant to modern-day Policing and don’t know what I’m talking about, and that is their opinion, and they are welcome to it, but you don’t have to have a PhD in Policing or a Masters in Modern Dance to see that things have changed. The person with a PhD in Policing will no doubt word their piece differently, with a ‘better’ writing style, but the numbers don’t lie. Each of the above sets of data have been expressed as a percentage of the total establishment on that date.

In my opinion, what this shows, is that The Police Uplift Programme is replacing some (but probably not all) of the numbers shed by Mrs May’s peculiar savaging of Policing, but really highlights the fact that the modern day Police Service is short on officers with experience. I repeat this is in no way a criticism of the officers doing the job. I cannot speak for all Police Forces, I only have personal knowledge of the Met and its training regime, but even at 5 years’ service I wouldn’t have regarded myself as omni-competent, that point comes closer to 10 years. My view is that 0-10 years officers are incredibly keen and active (I have never disputed that) , but do not yet possess a full skillset. From 25 years on they are highly skilled but not as active as they once were. Between 10 and 25 years is the sector that gives us the best compromise, and should be nurtured and protected. These officers should most definitely be encouraged to remain and not resign. This is quite possibly not happening.

Once again it is only my opinion, but I do believe that the average Member of the Public, requiring the services of the Police, would rather interact with a more mature officer with a broad spectrum of knowledge and experiences. Again, this is not meant to disrespect our more junior officers, they are keen and willing to learn, but that takes time. They will get there, and then they themselves will form part of the 10-20 segment.


My conclusion, at the end of Part I, is that the Police Uplift Programme is working hard at replacing the officers lost to Theresa May and David Cameron. I think time and experience, has shown us that this was a terrible ‘mistake’ and a whole decade later we’re still not out of the woods, back where we should be yet. Additionally I personally feel that as much, if not more, effort should be expended on retaining the experienced officers that survived the cull. Way back in time it was almost unheard of for experienced officers, out of their probation, to resign voluntarily, many, or most, were trapped by the Police Pension Scheme before the regs changed. That effect is weaker now after government interference, and Part II will take a look at Voluntary Resignations and try to establish whether they are having a noticeable effect and what might be done about it.

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2 thoughts on “The Changing Shape of The Police Service; Part 1”

  1. The key issue in your observation for me is what constitutes experience? Is it merely length of service or should we be looking at other measures of ability and competence and quite frankly was length of service ever an accurate measure? I think we can all recall those van and RT drivers who were little more than chauffeurs.

    1. I can recall many van drivers and RT drivers who were some of the best cops you could wish to meet, and dome skippers and Inspectors who were hopeless. I’m not sure how you measure ‘experience’ but it doesn’t come in 6 months, it takes time and it takes graft.

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